Listening to The Band, The Last Waltz
As a teacher I look warily at the disarray on Jesus:
- School education still presents the New Testament (NT) as the story that is being told about Jesus. There is truth here: indeed, that story is being told. This is proper information about what the religious Christians believe. But there is also falsehood here: because it is not explained that those stories are invented and that Jesus is Santa Claus for adults.
- At the academies, scholars lock themselves up in arcane discussions targeted at their peer-reviewed journals. Theologians assume the existence of God anyhow. New Testament Studies assume the existence of a historical Jesus. Historians tend to link up to the former. It might often be religious people who study this subject anyhow, because who else would be interested in reading the weird “revelations” of ancients prophets and monks ? Even the more critical historians feel forced to join the specialisation, for that is the name of the game of being an academic.
- Outside of the academies, there is growing outrage about the historical untruths. People with diverse backgrounds like from electrical engineering to accounting start reading the common sources and start asking questions based upon logic and common sense. Over the years they can build up a respectable amount of knowledge and analysis, but of course they don’t publish in the academic journals, since their objective is quite different.
Each author is at a danger of creating his or her own Jesus. This is wonderful in terms of creativity for widening the scope for analysis. It seems that the academies have concentrated for the last 50 years on the Q hypothesis, and that they are now awakening to the notion that this is a dead end street. The latter might be regarded positively: that this has been established with quite some certainty now. It also is a huge waste of time, intelligence and effort. At its base lies the human weakness of disingenuity. If you apply mere logic, the Q hypothesis is absurd: see last weblog entry.
Beware of Biblical scholars
Consider the story of the Dead Sea Scrolls (DSS). They were discovered between 1946 and 1956. Somehow their research became a monopoly of a group with a Catholic background, who launched the idea that the DSS would concern the period of 200 – 0 BC. It was due to Robert Eisenman and others that this monopoly was broken in 1991, at least 30 years later. It was also due to chance that photo’s had been made and that those were outside of reach of that monopoly. Eisenman has now established that crucial scrolls would apply up to the period of 70 AD, when Jerusalem and the Temple were destroyed by the Romans. Hence some members of the DSS sects fled Jerusalem and Qumran just before the arrival of the Romans to hide their scrolls. Lena Einhorn confirms independently with the “time shift hypothesis” that events of 66-70 AD have been re-edited in the New Testament towards one generation (40 years) earlier.
“Professors Robert Eisenman and James Robinson indexed the photographs and wrote an introduction to A Facsimile Edition of the Dead Sea Scrolls, which was published by the Biblical Archaeology Society in 1991.” (Wikipedia)
Who doesn’t shudder when hearing about that 30 year delay and misdirection ? Well, surprisingly, many Biblical scholars don’t wink, and continue in their allegiance to their faith, in neglect of the standards of science. Which is why it is important that scientists from other realms knock on the door and ask what is happening here.
Enter Michael Baigent from the fringe
The mention of photography allows an easy bridge to Michael Baigent (1948-2013). A lot has already been said about him, but these points seem important:
- Boycott Dan Brown with his Da Vinci Code, since the script has been taken from Baigent, even though copyright laws apparently allow such feat. The reports about the law suit make for awkward reading, though a cynic might be amused. One can understand that Baigent lost under current laws – and not having Brown’s wife under oath in the witness stand. Brown did give a reference to Baigent but a reference is not enough when so many of the ideas are used.
- Baigent’s script and Brown’s novelification have had quite an impact on popular perception of antiquity and the origin of Christianity. People will not believe the link of the Holy Grail to Christs’ bloodline, but they did start to wonder whether the Gospels are not just stories too. Baigent’s role in this deserves broad notice.
- Baigent has a surprising feeling for fringe issues with the freedom to speculate, see his website. My suggestion would be, not that Dan Brown or would-be-Dan-Browns use these to write more fiction bestsellers, but that scholars take these as clues for interesting story lines: to tell what truthfully can be told. See the series “Ancient aliens debunked” as an example. And let the Baigent bloodline then share in the monetary proceeds.
- Baigent’s major point may not be fiction at all. This concerns his warning about rabble-rousing about Armageddon.
Let me quote a bit more extensively from the website of his book “Racing towards Armageddon” (another book I didn’t read) to suggest that Baigent has something important to tell. Think about the fun movie “This is the End” that also plays into our culturally created delight and fear for the End of Time:
“This book explores the power of ideas to both create and change the beliefs that define people and nations. Bad ideas lead to bad outcomes. And as bad outcomes go, the belief in Armageddon is one of the worst.
(…) Fifty-nine percent of all American Christians – according to polls in 2002 – believe that the events described in Revelation will occur in their lifetime; amongst fundamentalist Christians the figure reaches seventy-seven percent. In the last days, they believe, the Messiah – Jesus – will return, win the great battle against Satan (the Antichrist, the Beast) and convert the entire world to Christianity. Thereafter he will rule from Jerusalem.
(…) I wrote this book out of a sense of outrage: that the lunatics were openly taking over the asylum and no one seemed to care. I had spent years talking to journalists about the matters explored in this book in an attempt to get them interested in chasing this story. But my many attempts had no effect. For some reason this area was too toxic – perhaps because working in it would probe areas which would reveal limits to our modern liberal desire for tolerance of all diversity, however destructive that might be to our own way of life. Finally, realising that this story would never be written unless I did it myself, I opened my lap-top and began.
(…) We have discovered the importance of tempering religious and ideological fervour through the checks and balances of democratic laws. And it is frightening to discover, as you will in this book, that there are powerful forces within our democracies which want to remove these laws for something more primitive and brutal.
(…) The extreme fundamentalism which I am writing about in my book is like a destructive virus infecting our culture. We need to stop it. To dismiss the appeal to biblical prophecy made by its leaders.
(…) It is self-evident that the trouble with prophecy is that it can become self-fulfilling; if we believe something to be true we may make it happen. There are many extremist Christians and Muslims who believe in a last-days cataclysm. Will this belief create a new reality in the Middle East? This seems entirely plausible.
(…) Today those from the intolerant edge are making a concerted attempt to take over the centre; the fanatics are outflanking the complacent. Moderates of all faiths have reason to worry: do those self-confident, certain and aggressive voices from the edge truly speak for religion? We need to ask a blunt and unwelcome question: how long dare we be tolerant of intolerance?
(…) Before we cross the point of no return we must pose a blunt and difficult question: in this book, I ask, has the era of belief in one anthropomorphic God had its day?
(…) The most important message for readers is to keep asking questions; especially of all those who express belief systems which make claims of certainty and truth.” (Michael Baigent)
Readers of my work may thus understand my puzzled interest in these issues:
- Mathematics claims to be a gateway to certainty and truth, but in the education of mathematics there are levels of abstraction, with parallels to the children’s Bible and the docetic interpretation of divinity: see An explanation for Wigner’s “Unreasonable effectiveness of mathematics in the natural sciences”
- Political economy suggests the separation of state and church, and deals with tribal conflicts within nations, see the high priests of high treason
- Science should be free to debunk untruths, also those generated by religions, and religions should listen – which is the scientific attitude, and is something else than obey
A key agenda for academics and educators
A key agenda for academics and educators would be to get their act together and work towards inoculation against the rabble-rousing. Points to consider are:
- Define what rabble-rousing is. See Robert M. Price on the inverted logic that causes fundamentalism and zealotism. See David Brin on the hormonal feedback from religious rage, and consider that religion can be a hard drug.
- Academics are oriented at being original. Papers for journals might mention agreement but tend to contain some disagreement, e.g. something new. It are teachers who codify the findings into what should be passed on to the new generation. Academics should reconsider what would be the bedrock certainties that would be important to suggest to the younger generations, and join up with teachers to distill these. Do not exclude the so-called fringe, such as listed here on vridar.org, but consider the arguments.
- Educators can already start by introducing common sense and diversity of opinion into courses. Many students and pupils love hearing about pyramids, Stonehenge, aliens, and what have you.
- Repair the errors mentioned above. Does it matter that Jesus is anthropomorphic as Baigent calls it, or might he also be a hippopotamus ? Or should we join Judaism, as the Protestants of Egypt who iconoclastically removed all such images from the Holy Land ? More seriously: teaching content does not concern a religion, i.e. some input, but teaching content concerns the process of studying more of such inputs. Thus the bedrock certainties concern critical thinking and research methods.
- Once the academics have their act together and rewritten the history of the origins of Christianity, thus with much more uncertainty than now is the standard, they should support the educators, so that those would not be the most conservative bottleneck. It might be wise to already start educational update programmes at universities to help highschool and elementary school teachers make the change.
My proposal is to start with the deconstruction of the Christian Bible. When Europe and the USA have reoriented their mind on the origin of Christianity – with Putin’s Russia again lagging behind – then it will be easier as a next step to consider Islam. The problems of the Middle East are primarily political and it doesn’t seem wise to complicate the resolution of those by introducing the issue of religion as a stumbling stone.
(Here the stepping stone would rather be the introduction of the separation of state and religion, like already happened in the West. Such separation doesn’t give religion full freedom to indoctrinate whatever they want, since the state would monitor basics, but religious leaders would be able to understand that this is the limited freedom that they get.)